In the dark
The 2008 MotoGP World Championship will make history at Losail on March 9, with the first-ever night-time Grand Prix race.
Repsol Honda riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa are looking forward to this new challenge but most of all they are raring to going
racing after a long winter of testing and development work.
Since last November the pair have been working hard on the latest version of Honda's RC212V. Hayden has shown his pace in preseason tests, topping the first Sepang session in late January as well as last month's Jerez outing. The 2006 MotoGP World Champion has a good record at the Qatar GP – he finished a close second at Losail in 2006 after taking third place the previous year.
“I'm just really happy to be going racing again because that's what it's all about”, he confessed. “Qatar is going to be an interesting weekend – first race of the year and it's running at night too. The actual track is really good – the layout is awesome, the grip is good, the surface is good, there's plenty of run-off, the safety's great, it's everything you could want, but you just don't have 100,000 people going wild for their favourite rider and it's missing that bit of history. I think running it at night is going to make a difference to that, it's going to be real interesting how the tyres work at night and the temperature and the wind. I think it's gonna be cool, I'm really looking forward to it because I enjoyed riding at night in the tests. You do need some ponies for that front straightaway because you come on to it quite slow and you need to accelerate because it's a long straightaway. I've spent a lot of time under lights doing dirt track at home, but until the tests here, the only time I'd ridden a roadracer in the dark was practising for the Suzuka Eight Hours in 2003 and that was really cool.”
Pedrosa, who won the final 2007 GP to take second place in the World Championship, has had a much tougher winter. The Spaniard fell on the first day of testing at Sepang on January 22, breaking bones in his right hand, which has been pinned and plated.
Despite intensive rehabilitation therapy the hand isn't yet at 100 per cent and Pedrosa will make a cautious start to his third season in the premier class. Pedrosa finished in third place at last year's Qatar GP.
“This certainly isn't my favourite circuit. Most of the time it's quite windy at Losail, which blows sand from around the circuit on to the track, making it dirty. The tarmac itself is grippy but when it's dusty there's not much grip. Also, it's always dusty off the racing line, so if you get off the line you lose a lot of time because you have to be very careful not to fall. Fortunately it's not bumpy and the safety is good”, explained the Spaniard. “Technically, this circuit requires very precise bike setup, with good agility and good straight-line speed; these two factors are very important at Losail. When choosing tyres we usually go for intermediate tyres, neither too hard nor too soft. You have to ride quite aggressively at Losail, though there is a section – the three fast curves approaching the corner before the start-finish – which requires you to ride more carefully. Riding at night here is a new experience, but for my liking there is too much humidity as night falls, and you really notice it on the track.”
Losail hosts its fifth MotoGP race this year, but the 2008 Qatar GP will be very different from the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 events, thanks to its night-time schedule. Track temperature will be dramatically different from previous events and that alone changes the character of the circuit and the race. Riders had the opportunity to acclimatise to these very different conditions during night-time tests on February 28 and 29. The circuit is lit by an amazing 5.4 million watt lighting system, the biggest of its kind, which could illuminate a road from Doha to Moscow or 70 FIFA football fields.
The circuit itself, constructed in 2004 to bring MotoGP to the Middle East for the first time, is a sinuous test for man and machine, with the layout of individual corners inspired by famous corners at racetracks from around the world. Corner speed and machine agility are vitally important at Losail with only one straight worthy of the name – the 1.068km/0.664 mile start-finish, which demands plenty of horsepower.